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Trump’s gay nominee Ric Grenell confirmed as ambassador to Germany

Fox News commentator will become envoy to 4th largest national economy

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The U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Grenell to become U.S. ambassador to Germany.
(Screen capture public domain)

The U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Grenell on Thursday as U.S. ambassador to Germany, making him the most high-profile openly gay appointee in the Trump administration.

Grenell — who has faced Democratic opposition for months over mean tweets he made about the appearance of women and other comments downplaying the significance of Russia’s influence in the 2016 election — was confirmed by a largely party line vote of 56-42.

Among the Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to confirm Grenell were Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-M0). All Republicans present voted for Grenell’s confirmation.

Both of the senators from Grenell’s home state of California — Sen. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein — voted “no” on his confirmation.

First nominated by President Trump in September, Grenell’s confirmation means an openly gay person high-profile seat in the administration and serve as U.S. envoy to the world’s fourth largest national economy.

But it’s a not a first or the most high-profile gay appointment of all time. The first openly gay U.S. ambassador was James Hormel, who served as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during the Clinton administration. President Obama has no fewer than seven openly gay U.S. ambassadors who served at various times in his administration.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell’s confirmation was “historic,” dubbing him “the highest-ranking openly gay official ever in a Republican administration.”

“Despite the interminable delays of Democrats hell-bent on standing on the wrong side of history, today the United States Senate confirmed a gay nominee not ‘in spite of’ Republicans, or ‘with Republican support,’ but because of Republican support,” Angelo added.

Angelo said the vote on Grenell would have consequences in the upcoming congressional mid-term elections, noting Log Cabin stood alone among LGBT groups in pushing for his confirmation.

“Log Cabin Republicans will not forget the votes of the Democratic senators who voted against Grenell’s confirmation, nor the roaring silence from LGBT advocacy organizations who did nothing to achieve this tremendous milestone in LGBT history,” Angelo said.

Grenell is a foreign policy expert who has served in various roles as a public communications adviser and a Fox News commentator. Under the George W. Bush administration, Grenell became the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, working under four U.S. ambassadors.

Grenell, who has described himself as a gay conservative Christian, has a same-sex partner of 15 years, Matt Lashey. Lashey himself is a conservative Christian who graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

For a period of less than two weeks, Grenell served during the 2012 presidential campaign as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. Grenell never had the opportunity to speak publicly in the role.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on the nomination on Wednesday, the cloture vote was withdrawn on Thursday, paving the way for a confirmation vote that day.

The Democratic opposition holding up Grenell’s confirmation lasted for months. At one point, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed Democrats on the obstruction, blaming for the holdup on the nomination.

When McConnell tried to move forward with the nomination late last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the chief sponsor of the Equality Act, blocked the nomination from moving forward.

The primary reason for the hold on Grenell purportedly was comments he made years ago on Twitter about the appearance of women, including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Callista Gingrich and Rachel Maddow. Although Grenell years ago apologized and deleted those tweets, they stand out in the context of the #MeToo movement in which women are coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

One 2011 tweet directed at Maddow, a lesbian news anchor on MSNBC, said she “needs to take a breath and put on a necklace” and another compared her look to that of pop singer Justin Bieber. One tweet directed at Gingrich questioned whether she “snaps on” her hair. At around the same time, Grenell tweeted “Hillary is starting to look like Madeleine Albright.”

(Those tweets echo comments he reportedly made in 1992 as a young aide for the re-election campaign of George H.W. Bush, according to a Washington Post article in 1995. A fellow staffer recalled Grenell telling a female aide wearing a red shoes flowery dress, ‘Didn’t your mother ever tell you only whores and very small children wear red shoes?‘”)

Although Grenell deleted those tweets during his brief stint with the Romney campaign and apologized for them, the similar exchange years later. In a now deleted tweet, Grenell told MSNBC reporter Katy Tur in 2016 “calling yourself a journalist is offensive to real ones. Did u intern for @KeithOlbermann or date him? Either way doesn’t make u a reporter.” Grenell faced immediate criticism from other women on Twitter over the remarks.

Also cited as concerns over Grenell were tweets he made in 2016 downplaying the impact of Russian hacking on the election.

In one tweet, Grenell wrote, “There’s a difference between hackers from Russia and hackers from the Russian government.” In another, Grenell objected to the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s criticism of Wikileaks, stating, “McFaul tells Wikileaks to not publish?!”

Despite these concerns, Grenell had significant high-profile support from both the left and the right, including the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, “Ellen” show executive producer Andy Lassner and conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt and Greta Van Susteren. (Ironically, McFaul expressed support for Grenell even though the new ambassador’s tweet mentioning him was cited as cause for concern.)

Another high-profile individual who expressed support for moving forward with the Grenell nomination was Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). However, Coons ultimately voted “no” on Grenell’s confirmation on the Senate floor. The Washington Blade placed a request for comment in with Coons’ office seeking an explanation for the vote.

Grenell is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Germany with just one week remaining before Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel has a scheduled visit to the White House. Log Cabin’s Angelo said Merkel’s upcoming visit “seems to have put the fingers on the scale” to hold the confirmation vote.

Although Grenell is now the most high-profile openly gay appointee in the Trump administration, the Senate has confirmed others who aren’t as high-profile. Two were confirmed unanimously in the Senate: James Abbott, who was confirmed to the Federal Labor Relations Authority; and David Glawe, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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